How Do I Become a Linguistic Specialist for the Federal Government?

Many federal government agencies employ linguistic specialists for diplomatic, military, and educational positions. Keep reading to learn about the requirements for starting a career as a linguistic specialist for the federal government. Schools offering Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Linguists are language specialists who translate, interpret and aid in the communication between individuals and groups who speak different languages. Linguistic specialist for the federal government may work for agencies like the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, and additional job duties may include acting as cultural guides, testifying at trials, interviewing subjects of interest and analyzing foreign documents.

Important Facts About a Career as a Linguistic Specialist

Median Salary$43,590
Job Outlook29% growth from 2014-2024
Similar OccupationsCourt reporters, teachers, medical transcriptionists, technical writers
Professional CertificationAmerican Translators Association provides certification for 27 different languages including English

Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Skills

Becoming a linguistic specialist for the federal government requires that you are able to communicate effectively in English. Most agencies that hire these specialists will test your knowledge of the English language. A solid grasp of English can also help you learn new languages and translate information from one language to another.

Linguistic specialists who work for the government need to be able to fluently speak at least one other language, but speaking more than one could help your job prospects since government agencies work in a variety of different areas where many languages are used. Languages that are commonly needed by government agencies like the FBI and CIA include Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Somali, Chinese or Urdu. You can find language courses at most universities and colleges, and degree programs are available for many of these languages.

Education

The minimum requirement to work for a government agency in this field is often at least a bachelor's degree; however, some departments will hire contractors with just a high school diploma and language experience. Even if you pursue employment with an agency that doesn't require a bachelor's degree, earning one can help you develop your skills in both English and a foreign language. For example, you can take literature courses in college that improve your understanding of English grammar and usage or you can look for communications courses that can help you acquire strong oral and interpersonal communication skills.

You'll also find plenty of foreign language degree programs that combine training in speaking and reading with literature and cultural courses that expand your understanding of the language. If you are already fluent in other languages, you could pursue a degree in international affairs, or a related field, since some employers seek applicants with strong interest in global affairs.

Additional Requirements

Government agencies that hire linguistic specialists generally require applicants to pass a Foreign Language Test Battery during the hiring process. These tests vary, but you could be required to complete oral interviews in English and a foreign language, written tests to prove your ability to translate a foreign language into English and a proficiency test, such as the Defense Language Proficiency Test.

Along with a language test, you'll need to be prepared to undergo a background test. This test is used to determine if you have any criminal history and usually requires that you get fingerprinted. Potential employers can also confirm your U.S. citizenship, review your credit and driving history, verify your previous employment and interview personal references. Some federal government employers might also require you to obtain security clearance. In addition, you can expect to be tested for drug use during the hiring process.

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